The “hot lunch” line snakes out the door of the multipurpose room at Franklin Elementary School. Kids dressed in snow boots and parkas file past a table where a staff member is handing out plastic-wrapped containers of hot dogs and fries, canned peaches and a cookie. Forget trays or plates. The kids clutch the packages in both hands and, after a student helper plunks a carton of milk on top, hug the whole load to their chests, trying not to drop mittens and hats. They scurry into the gym and squeeze into a spot at one of the crowded lunch tables, where the “cold lunch” kids are chowing down with a 10-minute head start. Twelve minutes left before the bell rings. Better eat fast.
Is the Madison Metropolitan School District’s school lunch program unhealthy for kids?
It depends who you ask. On one side is a well-trained food service department that manages to feed 19,000 kids under a bevy of guidelines on a slim budget. On the other is a growing number of parents and community advocates armed with research about the shortcomings of mass-produced food and race-to-the-finish mealtimes.
“We’re perpetuating a fast-food mentality,” said Pat Mulvey, a personal chef and the parent of a second-grader and a kindergartner at Franklin. “We can do better.”
Mulvey has joined a small group of parents at south side Franklin and affiliated Randall Elementary calling for changes to the school lunch program. Among their concerns: a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, high fat and salt content in items perceived as “processed” or “junk food,” little nutritional information on the Web site, too much plastic, too much waste and too little time to eat.
This isn’t the first time parents in the district have raised concerns about school lunch. For the past decade, parents, educators and healthy food advocates in the Madison area have asked the School Board, principals and the district’s food service to serve more fresh foods and make lunch longer than 25 minutes.
This issue has come up a number of times over the years.